Kim Sawchuk: 'There’s a lot of fascinating research happening on the ground'
This month, Kim Sawchuk assumes her new role as associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Arts and Science and she’s arriving with plenty of research momentum.
“If you want someone who’s passionate about research, who’s unconventional in their thinking, and who’s not afraid to say what she thinks, then I’m your person. If you don’t want those things, then I’m not interested in the position. But I think they know who they’re getting,” she says.
Sawchuk, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies, says she’s committed to finding out about the research happening throughout the university’s largest faculty, and helping to facilitate and promote it. “We often hear about our high-profile researchers, but there’s a lot of stuff happening on the ground that is equally fascinating, that needs to be acknowledged.”
André Roy, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, is delighted to have someone with Sawchuk’s experience and success as a researcher and graduate student supervisor joining his team. “Her innovative thinking, combined with a pragmatic approach, will allow our faculty to reach the next level in research and graduate studies. She is a wonderful leader by example.”
The new associate dean, who begins her official mandate on January 1, 2015, says part of her new role will involve conveying the continued importance of research in troubled times.
“Scholars are being asked to prove and indicate the social impact of their research. Sometimes that’s a good thing but what do we mean by social impact and how do we even measure it? Research for the good of society is one of the things that many people at Concordia have been engaged with for a long time. I think people here are motivated to think about the place of their research within the larger world, and of the questions and challenges that we’re facing as a culture.”
As the editor of the Canadian Journal of Communication for six years, Sawchuk worked closely with contributors, helping them to communicate their ideas in the best way possible. During more than 20 years as a faculty member at Concordia, she has also supervised dozens of graduate students. Playing the mentor is nothing new and it’s work that she relishes.
Now, working closely with Concordia’s Office of Research, Sawchuk will be spending even more time helping graduate students figure out what problems they want to tackle, and how to approach them. “If you can get students excited about different ideas and involve them on collaborative research teams, they become the greatest resource you can have,” she says.
A leader in research-creation at Concordia, Sawchuk is the co-director of the Mobile Media Lab and holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Mobile Media Studies. Her own interdisciplinary feminist research explores the intersections between media, ageing studies and critical disability studies.
This past August, Sawchuk received a partnership grant of $2.99 million from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for her seven-year project, Ageing, Communication, Technologies (ACT): Experiencing a Digital World in Later Life.
It’s the first large-scale research initiative to address the transformation of the experiences of ageing in networked societies. The project’s international team brings together 12 universities, seven research institutes, seven community partners, 17 co-applicants and 18 collaborators.
The primary objective of the ACT project, Sawchuk explains, is to consider how digital ageism operates and to suggest strategies for change.
“If we don't pay attention to the range of media practices by all members of our society, then we're going to be committing some really big errors in judgement and reinforce exclusions that have future implications for generations to come.”
Coming into her new post with a strong interdisciplinary background, Sawchuk says she’s excited about the possibility of discovering and nurturing new research connections. But while putting experts from different fields together in the lab can achieve fascinating results, getting them to work towards a common research goal can sometimes be challenging.
“I've worked with engineers, computer scientists, designers, artists, and community activists- all kinds of people. Sometimes the way we problem solve is very different… You have to find ways to get everyone talking and understanding each other.”